In order to cook wholesome, healthy meals from scratch, a good stock pot and set of saucepans are a must. I usually make stock once or twice a week (everyday when on the GAPS intro diet – see GAPS and Me), all my own soups, stews and desserts, which mean my pans are used almost every day and therefore need to be well made. There are a huge number of different makes and sizes on offer and all made from various types of substances which can be very confusing. So what is the healthiest cookware?
Stainless steel, aluminium, copper or non-stick? Again there are varying accounts of which types work the best and which are the healthiest. Therefore it is very important to make wise choices. That is what I hope this article will help you to do.
Over the years there has been a great deal of controversy regarding pans made from aluminium. Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions) states, “Acidic or salty foods cooked in aluminium will cause this toxic metal to be dissolved into food. Recent research has linked aluminium with Alzheimer’s disease and many investigators feel that aluminium from cookware contributes to other diseases as well.” In conclusion she says, “Don’t buy them. They look great, but aluminium is highly reactive, even in high-tech form.”
However, the Alzheimer’s Society says on its website that, as yet, no study or group of studies has been able to confirm that aluminium is involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (see alzheimer’s.org.uk).
Christopher Exley is a professor in bioinorganic chemistry at Keele University’s Birchall Centre (Staffordshire, UK). In his article Surviving in the Aluminium Age he comments: “While the aluminium industry has long perpetuated the myth that aluminium is benign, nontoxic and even safe, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there are few more biologically reactive metals than aluminium.” He goes on to say that it is more than capable of contributing to most chronic diseases, including diabetes, autoimmunity, multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions. Regarding aluminium pans for cooking, he says do not use them.
Copper is popular to cook with because it conducts heat effectively. However, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that acidic foods can cause copper to dissolve into the food on unprotected cookware.
The George Mateljan Foundation (a non-profit organisation which provides information on healthy eating) states on its website whfoods.org that they don’t like the idea of cooking directly on a copper surface due to potential risk (however slight) of copper toxicity. They conclude that whilst it is very unlikely you will get the upper daily limit of copper from your cookware into your food (even under highly acidic conditions that increase leaching), they prefer to avoid all possible risk.
Cookware made with these coatings have also had their fair share of controversy. Some researchers claim they are harmful and linked to health conditions such as cancer, while others claim that cooking with these is completely safe but only up to certain temperatures.
Most concerns have been regarding a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was used to produce non-stick cookware up until 2013, but has been eliminated since 2015.
The FDA has carried out tests on non-stick cookware to assess the possible danger of PFOA to humans. “What we found was that the manufacturing process used to make those pans drives off the PFOA,” says Paul Honigfort, PH.D., a consumer safety officer with the FDA. “The risk to consumers is considered negligible.”
This is more stable and less prone to leaching. “What some cite as a concern for stainless steel is the leaching of nickel, a potentially toxic metal,” says whfoods.org, “Yet, because the alloy (combination of metals used) in stainless steel cookware is more stable than other cookware materials you are less likely to have any leaching of any metal, including nickel. An exception would be stainless steel pots and pans that have been damaged by harsh scouring with an abrasive material like steel wool. Provided that you take good care of your stainless steel cookware and keep the cooking surfaces intact, we believe you are making an excellent choice in cookware with this material.”
This is better for frying and if properly seasoned and not washed with soap should last a lifetime. If a cast iron pan is just rinsed in hot water and dried with kitchen paper, then food should not stick and is less likely to burn.
After weighing up all of the above, I now only buy stainless steel or cast iron (see Jean Patrique Professional Cookware Set Review).
Everyone’s circumstances are different. You may be living within a tight budget and have limited storage space in your kitchen. I have experienced both, but whatever your situation, try to buy the very best and healthiest you can afford at the time.
Remember change takes time – I am still in the process of replacing plastic containers with glass and I still have some non-stick baking trays I would like to replace. It is not always financially possible to replace everything at once – we’re not all made of money, are we?
*Stainless steel comes in different types – 18/10; 18/8 or 18/0.
These numbers refer to the percentages of chromium and nickel in the steel. They help to reduce rust, add shine and make it more durable.
18/10 = 18% Chromium, 10% Nickel
18/8 = 18% Chromium, 8% Nickel
18/0 = 18% Chromium, no Nickel
The best quality cookware comes in 18/10 and 18/8, these can hold acidic foods and hot and cold liquids for longer periods of time without corrosion. Nickel is expensive, so pans with a higher level of it will cost more but you will get a product of a higher standard.
Cheaper pots and cutlery will usually come in 18/0, which is not as resistant to corrosion and not as durable.
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